US police drones: ‘Bit by bit people’s rights to privacy taken away’

© Charles Platiau
Legalizing the use of armed drones by police in North Dakota will definitely increase the number of people under surveillance and also under attack, says Nick Mottern, drone researcher from knowdrones.com

Police in the US state of North Dakota are now allowed to use armed drones while on duty. Under a newly adopted law weapons that are "less than lethal" can be used with the unmanned flying devices.

RT: North Dakota has legalized the use of armed drones by police. What are the supposed benefits, and how dangerous is it to the public?

Nick Mottern: I don’t know what they see as the benefits but it’s very dangerous for the public. You have already police who on the ground are very close to committing crimes against black and Hispanic people more than against white. When you have weapon that is in the air being viewed by someone far from the supposed suspect, the chances that person far away firing on the suspect I think are greatly increased. So this is a very threatening weapon just in general from a violation of privacy standpoint and then when you talk about putting any kind of weapon on it, it becomes something that is bound to lead to injuries and deaths without any due process just as it is in drone war right now.  

RT: The US military's conducted deadly drone attacks around the world in intense trouble-spots. Why should the police need such firepower?

NM: The police don’t need such fire power but what you have in the US and certainly in some other countries, but particularly in the US, you have very strong pressure coming from a variety of companies that want to make a lot of money from this technology. So they are putting forward the notion that these weapons give the police much more power and the police naturally want to have more power. Whether they should have has been left by the wayside.

As far as commercial interests are concerned, I want to point out that in 2011 the Congress passed a bill that would put drones into the skies of the US without any restriction on weapons or surveillance. This legislation went through Congress with no hearings and with no opposition, it was voted quickly and almost unanimously on the floor. So this was all pushed by drone makers and drone weapon makers and they still have the upper hand on all of this.

© Charles Platiau

RT: While the drones will be limited to “less than lethal”, weapons use - such as tear gas, pepper spray and tasers - could their use prove fatal?

NM: Absolutely. I think it will definitely increase the numbers of people under surveillance but also under attack. I guess my opinion is that this is going to quickly develop into a global problem. I think the UN is long overdue in establishing rules that would prevent the weaponization of any drones whether it’s by the military or by the police or by private citizens. I think private citizens will arm drones and there will be many incidents of people using the drones to attack others and people trying to shoot down drones. Two weeks ago, in southern New Jersey, we had a man arrested for shooting down a drone that was flown by his neighbor too close to the man’s property at least in the view of the man who shot it down. This kind of things is going to increase.

RT: Do you agree that other states especially those with larger populations and crime statistics will follow North Dakota's lead?  

NM: I agree. This legislation that we are talking about is for North Dakota. Another state or another city might decide that they want to have drones that are armed with lethal weapons as well as these supposedly non-lethal weapons. So there is absolutely no national legislation that has been proposed to in any way limit these drone activities and this is largely because of the lobbying of these commercial interests. It’s quite a tragedy as it is unfolding to see bit by bit people’s rights to privacy taken away and a prospect of attack from the sky in communities increasing.

RT: America's police are increasingly criticized for their brutality and for causing deaths of un-armed citizens. What are your predictions for when they get to use drones?

NM: Ideally the federal government and the Congress have passed legislation that will say that there will be no arming of drones with lethal or non-lethal weapons and that drones will not be used for surveillance purposes against the general public with or without a warrant. That is the ideal and I believe that this is what needs to happen.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.